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Ibrahim Osei-Bonsu: Reflections on Islam and race from a Ghanaian Muslim

My first experience of Islam was with a friend of mine called Kola Wale who now goes by Tajudeen. I was 21. Even though I’ve always known that he is from a Muslim background, we’ve never really discussed that. From 18 years old he was at college and he started meeting a lot of Muslims and some of his friends obviously became my friends. Some of them were Somali though there were very few Somalis at that time- we’re talking mid-eighties and very few black Muslims.

That was my first encounter with Islam but I wasn’t interested then. I converted to Islam in France (in the 1990’s) –  I was always interested in religion since I was around 10 years old. I went to France searching for God.

There’s a vast amount of Senegalese people in France, many of who became friends and who are very friendly. They like to drink tea a lot so you’d be sitting down and where ever you’re sitting down some people would get up and just start praying all of a sudden- you’d ask yourself ‘what are they doing’ because you’d never seen that before in London. They like to talk as well, so after three or four hours of constant talking I became interested in the conversation and it seemed to make sense to me. I was 25 or 26 when I converted- roughly around the same time I met my wife.

When I converted something that was said to me was that I was going to face some racism in the Islamic community. I had been reading the Quran and hadith and it was perfect as far as I was concerned and the stories were beautiful, so when it was said to me that I’d face racism I was actually very annoyed with them as I thought ‘why would you bring me such an evil thought.’ However I soon discovered that they were right. I believe I’ve faced racism from people who are ignorant of what the religion teaches because they think its cultural.

It’s the classic stereotyping, ‘if you’re not like us than you must not be knowledgeable’. You even see it today as far as I’m concerned in a lot of mosques. There are still mosques were people of one colour exist and very few other people go there which I think is wrong.

I don’t see Arab supremacy. I don’t like that word, but the majority of Muslims are brown and I would say that probably because of where Islam came from -Arabia- they see it as their religion that belongs to them. This is what I faced. When I came into the religion I was actually told ‘welcome to our religion’, ‘you are now one of us’, ‘you’re almost like an Arab now’. They grow up like that, so I wouldn’t say its supremacy but I do think they feel superior because its their natural language. I would say this translates to some of the Asian community because they also feel as though it is ‘their’ religion. Without a doubt, regardless of religion, of whether you are Muslim or non Muslim, colourism is a fact of life that we face.

To overcome colourism and anti-blackness within the Muslim community, I think we need to infiltrate those sectors. The more you integrate with them, the more they integrate with you and the more they become less ignorant. So if we start building mosques just for Black people then the Brown people for example won’t know their wrongs. We need to integrate more with other people of different colours so that we become ‘colourless’ in that way. I always look at the Central mosque website and I used to get upset because I just see one colour- people just from Saudi or from Qatar, but I don’t see a multitude of Black people within the administration. I’ve met them and they’re all very nice but in the administration there is only one colour or one type of people from a specific country. The way to counteract that is by actually applying and going there. It’s very easy to complain but if we don’t get involved then how can it change? And that’s in anything, we can say that for government. If want to change something you’ve got to go there and change it. The more you do that, the more people see what you could bring.

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